19 September 2020
14 December 2016
CUHK Scholar Receives The Croucher Innovation Award 2017

Prof. Kathy Oi-lan Lui, Assistant Professor at the Department of Chemical Pathology and the Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences of the Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has been honoured with the Croucher Foundations’ Croucher Innovation Award 2017 for her distinguished accomplishment in the international scientific community through her work in cardiovascular development and regeneration. The award was presented by Mr. Nicholas W Yang, Secretary for Innovation and Technology, HKSAR Government at a presentation ceremony held on 8 December. With the support of the award, Prof. Lui aims to extend her work to cover congenital heart diseases associated with maternal diabetes. 

Modelling human cardiovascular development and diseases by pluripotent stem cells 

According to the statistics from the World Health Organization, cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death worldwide and the leading cause of death for aged patients suffering from diabetes. Nevertheless, the heart is notorious for not being able to regenerate itself following injuries. To regenerate a damaged heart, recent advances have been focusing on recapitulation of human heart development using pluripotent stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells, including embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), are “master” cells that give rise to almost all types of cells and tissues of the body. Therefore, scientists can literally generate new heart muscle and blood vessels to replace the damaged heart tissues using human pluripotent stem cells. Moreover, human pluripotent stem cells can also provide a source of human cells and tissues “in a dish” for modeling human diseases and identifying putative drug targets. 

Prof. Lui specializes in cardiovascular development and regeneration with the use of state-of-the-art technologies including human pluripotent stem cells and modified mRNA. She has previously derived methods for generating human heart progenitors, cardiac muscle and blood vessels from human pluripotent stem cells. She also identified an angiogenic factor as a cell fate switch for heart progenitors (Lui et al., Cell Research, 2013), and one that is responsible for heart regeneration delivered in the form of modified mRNA (Zangi, Lui et al., Nature Biotechnology, 2013). Results of her studies formed a solid foundation for a recently filed clinical trial with the hope of treating human patients with heart diseases. 

Cardiovascular diseases not only contribute to adult mortality but also that of infants. Maternal diabetes, predominantly pregestational diabetes including both type-1 and type-2, is a significant risk factor for congenital heart diseases in their newborns. Several international epidemiology studies revealed that infants of diabetic mothers are at about a fivefold increased risk of malformation and dysfunction of the heart compared to that of the background population, as well as more susceptible to developing cardiovascular diseases in later life. Since there is a rising prevalence of type-2 diabetes due to the obesity epidemic, it is anticipated that the number of pregestational diabetic mothers will increase, thus the prevalence of congenital heart diseases for their newborns will also increase. With the Croucher Innovation Award, worth HK$5 million over 5 years, Prof. Lui hopes to extend the knowledge of human heart development to model and treat human congenital heart diseases associated with maternal diabetes, using human pluripotent stem cells. 

Biography of Prof. Kathy Oi-lan Lui 

Prof. Kathy Lui joined CUHK as an Assistant Professor in 2014. Her research focuses on cardiovascular diseases and regeneration. She was born in Hong Kong and completed both the BSc (first-class honor) and MPhil at the Department of Biochemistry, CUHK. She then moved to the University of Oxford to do her DPhil studies and to Harvard University for her postdoctoral training. 

During her training, Prof. Lui won a number of prestigious awards including a full scholarship of the Dorothy Hodgkin Postgraduate Award, a Senior Scholarship from Lincoln College, University of Oxford, the Peter Beaconsfield Prize in Physiological Sciences, University of Oxford, and a Croucher Foundation Fellowship. Prof. Lui’s work has been published in high impact journals such as Nature Biotechnology, Nature Communications, Circulation Research, Cell Research, Journal of Cell Biology and PNAS. She is an editorial board member for Scientific Reports. She is also an inventor with three international patents. 

The Croucher Innovation Awards 

The Croucher Innovation Awards aim to identify a small number of exceptionally talented scientists working at an internationally competitive level and to offer substantial support to these ‘rising stars’ at a formative stage in their careers. The scheme is designed to enable recipients to pursue their own scientific, intellectual and professional inclinations, to advance their expertise, to engage in bold new work, and to contribute to the development of education and research in Hong Kong. Each award carries a value of up to HK$5 million over 5 years. 

The Honourable Mr. Nicholas Yang, Secretary for Innovation and Technology of the HKSAR Government (right), presents the Croucher Innovation Award 2017 to Prof. Kathy Lui.

CUHK Prof. Kathy Lui receives the Croucher Innovation Award 2017.

A group photo of Prof. Kathy Lui and CUHK members.

Prof. Kathy Lui and her research team.

Human embryonic stem cells